By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJanuary 8, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Jeff Moran has a standing invitation with his Marine Reserve unit in Montgomery.
This University of Alabama-Huntsville student is on standby with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines just in case the unit gets orders for a deployment to Southwest Asia. If and when the unit does deploy, it will be Moran's third time to go to war.
"If they were deployed next month, I would be with them," Moran said. "They will go to Afghanistan if they are deployed. The work there is not done. We must root out the Taliban and Al Qaida. The work will not be done until they don't have the ability to reorganize and hurt us again, and the people of Afghanistan have some sense of the idea of what freedom really is."
Moran, who served in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2005, and in Haditha, Iraq., in 2007, said he is encouraged by the new focus on Afghanistan.
"Because of Iraq, Afghanistan was forgotten," he said. "It's a hard fight over there. Every aspect of it is tough because we are dealing with a country that essentially has never had a democracy. It is a tribal country."
While he is waiting for a deployment, Moran is pursuing a bachelor's degree in political science with a minor in communications. And, although he doesn't wear the uniform every day, Moran continues to carry the Marine slogan - "Once a Marine, always a Marine" -- in his heart.
"I didn't even know what the Marines were before I joined," the 28-year-old recalled. "But I knew that was what I wanted to do."
Moran joined the Marines on Oct. 11, 2001. Four days later, he was a 20-year-old leatherneck at Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
"I joined because of the 9/11 attacks. I wanted to get who was responsible," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. My uncle was a Marine, but the only thing I knew about the Marines was that when you get yelled at during boot camp you need to stand there and shut up."
From 2001 until 2005, Moran's duty assignments skirted around opportunities to go to war. He served in 2002 during Operation Enduring Freedom, providing security for merchant ships sailing into Kuwait. He served in Bahran, Iraq, leaving that country in February 2003, just prior to the outbreak of war in March. And, during the initial years of the Iraq war, Moran was deployed twice to Japan for unit training.
"It was very frustrating," he said. "We kept saying 'We're trained and we're ready. Let's go!'"
Finally, his opportunity came, and Moran found himself in the midst of firefights in Fallujah.
"We got there right after Operation Phantom Fury (a Marine-led, U.S.-Iraqi offensive involving heavy urban combat in late 2004 against the Iraqi insurgency in Fallujah)," he said. "People were shooting at us. Rockets were shot at us. We took regular small arms fire. After a month, I went from patrol leader to squad leader to platoon sergeant with 28 Marines reporting to me."
Moran and his unit were responsible for security patrols in Fallujah, during which they gathered intelligence from the local residents. They also went on ambush patrols and cache sweeps.
"I loved it. There's no greater feeling in the world than to be with other Marines in an environment like that. I'd have done it for free," Moran said.
His second deployment to Haditha provided Moran with a glimpse of the country under much different circumstances.
"The political situation had changed," he said. "It was right towards the end of the surge in Iraq and after the incident in Haditha (when 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by a group of Marines). We were stationed in a house on the street where it happened.
"We were providing security in the neighborhood. It gave us more of an opportunity to be out there with the people. The people engaged us. They understood why we were there. We ate meals with them. We went on a lot of meet-and-greet patrols. We did humanitarian things. We would visit their homes and ask them what was going on, what they didn't like. It was more about intelligence gathering and building relationships. I think we left a good mark."
As an older, more experienced student, Moran said he enjoys discussing political science issues with his UAH classmates.
"It's interesting to hear their perspective on things," he said. "I listen and then I throw in my two cents. I have a real life perspective on what's going on."
He has especially enjoyed a recent Laws of War class taught by former Marine Jay Town, who is now a Madison County assistant district attorney. During the class, Moran read "Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey," an autobiography by Vietnam POW and Medal of Honor recipient retired Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness. The book has become one of his favorites.
Although Moran said going to college on the GI Bill is definitely a benefit of serving in the military, he said such benefits shouldn't be the sole reason for wearing the uniform.
"There's got to be more of a meaning behind it," he said. "It has to be about service to the country or, maybe, you are lost in life and the military can give you some direction. There's got to be a deeper meaning if you are going to do something positive.
"Serving in the military has changed me for the better. It reinforced a lot of my regular upbringing. I had an idea of discipline and commitment, but the Marines really hammered it home for me. It reinforced what my parents taught me."
When leading other Marines, Moran said it's important to give them a sense of safety through instilling a high level of skills, self-esteem and a sense of justice.
"It's almost like arrogance," he said. "But, if you think you're the baddest in the valley, then no one can hurt you. There is nobody out there that's tougher than us. It's about setting an example."
After college, Moran hopes to use his experience and knowledge in the federal intelligence field.
"I want to continue to serve," he said. "If I can, I want to spend the rest of my life in some kind of service to my country."